§ Sub-section (1) of Section one of the Parliament and Registration Act, 1916, shall have effect as if six years and ten months were substituted therein for five years and eight months; and Section one of the Parliament and Local Elections Act, 1916, is hereby repealed.
The first Amendment, standing in the name of the hon. Member for North Westmeath (Mr. Ginnell)—[to leave out from the beginning of the Clause to the word "Section"]— is out of order.
§ Mr. PETO
I beg to move, to leave out the words "six years and ten months," and to insert instead thereof the words "seven years."
I move this Amendment for two or three reasons, some general and some particular, the nature of which I want to have an opportunity of submitting to the Committee. This is the third time during the present Parliament that Parliament has extended its life for, as events have proved, an inadequate and irregular period. In the Parliament and Registra- 1680 tion Act, 1916, the period which Parliament set to its own life as provided by the Parliament Act of 1911 of five years was extended to five years and eight months. In the Parliament and Local Elections Act, 1916, that period was further extended by seven months, a month shorter than the first period of extension, to six years and three months. Now by this Clause both these provisions are altered or repealed and there is to be a further extension to a period of six years and ten months. This Parliament was originally elected for a period of seven years, and it was only by an Act passed by this Parliament that the period was limited to five years. Therefore, it seems to me that, as it is impossible to forecast within a few weeks or a few months what would be the most convenient period for the extension of the life of Parliament at the present time, the most natural course would be to extend the life of Parliament to the period for which it was originally elected, namely, seven years. There are several much more specific reasons which I want to bring before the Committee. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Fife, the late Prime Minister, based the whole of his speech yesterday on the practical impossibility—I hardly think that is putting it too strongly—or, at any rate, the inadvisability of holding an election on the present register, because it would only result in the return of a wholly unrepresentative Parliament. The Leader of the House, in replying, said in effect that the franchise difficulty of holding an election during the period of the War was only one of the difficulties. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that the fact that at present it is impossible for any Government, however strong and however much it commands the support of the nation, to get a mandate from the nation which is in any sense representative is not a small part, but is a very substantial part of the difficulty of the present situation.
The Speaker's Conference sat, I think, from the early days of October until late in January, extending its sittings throughout the Recess at the express request of the Prime Minister. Some of us were disappointed that the present Government did not take the opportunity of at once dealing with this question of putting the franchise and the distribution of electoral power upon a basis which would enable the people to elect a representative Parlia- 1681 ment. There was no mention of any question of electoral reform in the King's Speech. It was only, comparatively speaking, the other day that, supported by the right hon. Gentleman the late Prime Minister, the present Prime Minister asked the House to proceed as soon as possible to an act of legislation which would give full effect to all the Resolutions of the Speaker's Conference with one doubtful exception. I am not going into any details of any of those questions of electoral reform, but had the Government dealt with this question at once in the early days of February, the period that is now proposed to extend Parliament, six years and ten months, would probably have proved adequate to enable effect to be given to legislation based on the Resolutions of the Speaker's Conference. I do not want to say that it would be impossible to carry out registration and redistribution in the period indicated, which expires on 30th November, but it is at any rate leaving a very short time, even assuming that the necessary legislation goes through in the easiest possible manner both in this House and another place. But if the Amendment which I propose, which carries it over to about 30th January next, were accepted by the Government, there is certainly a strong probability that by that time, when, by the natural efflux of time, this Parliament comes to a termination under this Bill, it will be possible to have it succeeded by a Parliament which will have the full authority of the people, not omitting those who are fighting for their country at the present time and the sailors of our merchant service.
Yesterday I think the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University (Lord Hugh Cecil) said that though a Parliament elected under the present register would be very unrepresentative, this Parliament also is extremely unrepresentative, at the present time, of the electorate as a whole. I am quite sure that there is no Member of the House who would not feel the power of Parliament enormously increased if he was satisfied that Parliament really represented the people as a whole. We are now going to extend the life of Parliament for the third time for the perfectly arbitrary period of seven months. It is worth while to take a little courage and grasp this question and admit frankly, what I believe has been at the back of the minds of everyone responsible for the proposed extension of Parliament, namely, that the period proposed may mean that it will 1682 outlast the period of the War. That is another consideration on which I think that the right hon. Gentleman would be well advised to extend the period of this Parliament by a couple of months beyond the period proposed in the Bill. I may also point out that, whether there is an Act passed to extend the life of Parliament by one period or another, of course it does not necessarily follow that Parliament will last for the period indicated. At any time when the Government ceases to have that support in: this House, which ex hypothesi is not fully representative of the people, which is necessary for them to carry on the War, it may be absolutely necessary for them to seek a fresh mandate from such register of the people as exists. That being so, it is not very important that we should consider whether Parliament should be extended by one period or another, and is not what appears to be the obvious period of extension, namely, the full term for which Parliament was originally elected, the one that is least open to contrary arguments.
I should like to hear from the right hon. Gentleman, if it is his opinion that six years and ten months is really preferable to seven years, why that strange period has been selected, unless it be on the shortest possible precedent, namely, that a few months ago we passed a similar Bill extending the life of Parliament for a similar period, namely, seven months? There is also the point, in view of the fact that onlyyesterday the Leader of the House pointed out that there is an extraordinarily heavy legislative programme before this House, that the embarrassment of the Government would be, for what it is worth, diminished if they felt they were not living on the edge of an electoral volcano, and were not merely extending their life by what appears to me to be an inadequate period. In the circumstances, suppose they adopt the further period which I propose it does not follow in the slightest degree that Parliament will last until that time. It, at any rate, puts one legislative question a couple of months further out of the programme, and may possibly save having to waste two or three days' valuable time late in the autumn in passing another Bill of this kind. There is no question that, whatever may be a profitable way of spending the time of this House, these two days, yesterday and to-day, are a dead loss, for what they are worth, in getting on with 1683 the necessary legislation which is directly connected with the War. The proposals which I now make gives us an additional chance of not having to spend another two or three days this year in passing a Bill exactly similar to the present one, extending the life of Parliament once more, and it would give us time to put through the necessary machinery to enable the succeeding Parliament to be representative in the fullest sense of the word. Therefore, I beg to move the Amendment which stands in my name, and I hope that the Government will see that there is very little to be said against it—that, at any rate, I have put forward some arguments which ought to have some weight with them, and that they will see their way to adopt the period suggested, namely, seven years.
§ Sir RYLAND ADKINS
I would like to support the Amendment of my hon. Friend, and I desire to convey to the Committee my conviction that this would be a great improvement on this Bill. I am not criticising the Government for not having brought in an Electoral Reform Bill since February last. Those of us who realise the enormous task which the Government have in hand ought to be very slow before we condemn them or find fault with them because things which are wise and necessary cannot be done with the promptitude which in easier times we should expect. But for that very reason, because we know how very difficult it may be to do even necessary things with the swiftness that is desirable, I do impress upon the Government the desirability of accepting this Amendment. It would be a thousand pities if the Electoral Reform Bill, which we understand is now being prepared, did not have a fair and full chance of becoming law during the lifetime of this Parliament. Every one of us would be placed in the unfortunate position of having to favour the claim of indefinite extensions of this Parliament, or of having an election in circumstances which were described with such power and vigour yesterday by the late Prime Minister and other speakers. The alternative is bad for the country to have forced upon it, and is an alternative which we ought to get away from as soon as we can, and the only way in which this alternative can be avoided is to have the Electoral Reform Bill become law, if pos- 1684 sible, during the extension of Parliament by the Bill which is now before the House and which will become law in a few days.
I submit to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that so far from this extension of two months embarrassing the freedom of action of the Government, it helps them. The extension of Parliament under this Bill for seven or nine months does not mean a compulsory extension. Every Government that ever ruled since the days of the Triennial Act might be glad to have a month or two in hand if forced by stress of weather to consider the desirability of dissolving Parliament. The difference between the two proposals is that the period proposed in the Bill makes the possibility of passing the Electoral Reform Bill less than if Parliament were extended for the full term of seven years. By extending it for the full term of seven years you are merely reverting to the law of the country as it was for two hundred years. You are not interfering with the freedom of action of the Government. You are giving to this House and to the other House full opportunities of carrying an Electoral Reform Bill, the principle of which this House approved of by an overwhelming display of opinion the other day. It is for those reasons, and because against it there is only the fact that nine months is a little longer than we had the last time, that I respectfully urge the Government to accept this Amendment. I do so not in the attitude of a critic, but in the attitude of a perfectly loyal supporter both of the War and of the Government, who are conducting it under circumstances of great difficulty and of stress, and I am quite sure that the sooner the Reform Bill is passed and the sooner it is possible for the Government to have an election which would be less of a farce than it would be now, the stronger the probability that it would be helpful to the progress of the War.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. Hayes Fisher)
If this Bill is carried in its present form, the present Parliament will expire on 30th November this year. If the Amendment of my hon. Friend is carried, this Parliament will last until the 31st January, 191S. My hon. Friend undoubtedly used very cogent arguments in favour of a further extension of the life of. Parliament for another two months. He said in the course of his observations that, after all, this Parliament was elected on 1685 the septennial principle, and it was only in 1911 that the septennial Parliament became subject to the new quinquennial rule. He further said that twice this House had extended the life of Parliament for what had proved' to be an inadequate time. All those arguments are quite true; but the most cogent of his arguments, in my opinion, was that in which he said that by extending the life of Parliament to the 31st January, 1918, we should give a real opportunity, not only for the Electoral Reform Bill to be carried, but for a register to be prepared on the basis of the Electoral Reform Bill. I do not deny the great difficulties which surround the whole question of registration If a register is to be prepared in consequence of the House of Commons accepting, as I hope they will, the main conclusions of the Speaker's Conference, and if it passes that Bill, then undoubtedly we shall have an entirely new system of franchise, coupled with a new system of registration created under very difficult circumstances. A new staff will have to be formed, and if women are going to be added, as I hope to see they will, to the register, and if you are going to have, for the first time, a list of absentee voters, then, in view of all those facts, to my mind you will undoubtedly require to have an almost, if not quite, complete house-to-house canvass and inquiry on the part of new registration officers. When all that is done we are necessarily faced with other difficulties, among which is that of printing, one of our greatest. Undoubtedly, so far as we can ascertain, without the making of the most searching inquiries, we think it would be almost impossible to produce a register under six months of time—that is, a register of a complete character, based on the new franchise, and on the whole new system of registration. Therefore, I recognise the cogency of my hon. Friend's arguments.
It may be asked why the Government, after the life of Parliament has been prolonged twice, have put a shorter period into the Bill, so that the life of this Parliament will last only until 30th November, instead of 31st January, 1918; and my hon. Friend has submitted, as one of his arguments, that what has been done by a Coalition Government is clearly a precedent, because they have already extended the life of Parliament for a period of eight months, and that the acceptance of this Amendment would only mean nine months. First of all, the earliest exten- 1686 sion of the life of Parliament was eight months, and the second extension was seven months, and the Government, having to choose the period to put into the Bill, undoubtedly were influenced by the idea that no Government, except under the most urgent and compelling circumstances, should extend the life of Parliament and its own life for a longer period than is absolutely necessary. I am quite sure that is the view of the House of Commons, which is naturally and properly jealous of the control of the Government, and any Member of the House of Commons naturally feels objection to the idea of his going to his constituents and saying: "Prolong my own life for another six months or eight months." Therefore, taking all these things into view, we thought it better not to prolong the life of this Parliament for a longer period, at all events, than eight months. If, looking at the whole of the facts, the House of Commons very much dislikes the third period of prolonging the life of Parliament, they might also very much dislike giving further powers to the present Government.
Bearing in mind all these circumstances and facts, the Government came to the conclusion that it would be better to follow precedent by sticking to the shorter period of seven months, instead of nine months, for which I admit the hon. Gentleman opposite advanced some really cogent arguments. After all, what will probably happen? I quite understand the interest of both the hon. Gentlemen who have spoken in the success of the Electoral Reform Bill, which is the outcome of those admirable deliberations and consultations of the Speaker's Conference. I quite sympathise with them, but I do not think there will be any disadvantage to that Bill merely because Parliament does not prolong its life for a longer period than is proposed. By the end of August the House of Commons will know that in order to give real effect to such a measure they must prolong the life of Parliament, because they could not get a register ready for a General Election. Supposing the House of Commons came to that conclusion, a Bill similar to this could at once be passed without much discussion, prolonging the life of the House of Commons for another two months in order that an election should take place, not on the old register, but oh a new register. I do not think we could at present take steps to begin it imme- 1687 diately, but once that Bill was passed through the House, we could at once begin to compile a new register in order to get it completed as soon as possible. If we could shorten the present period of prolongation to six months, we would be only too glad to do so, but I think, on the whole, my hon. Friends need have no fear about the Electoral Reform Bill suffering from the fact of the further prolongation of the life of this Parliament, and I think, while admitting the cogency of the arguments which hon. Members have put forward, it would be well to adhere to the proposal in the Bill.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I am very glad my right hon. Friend has taken the line that he has. I do not want to go into the question as to whether or not it is likely that an Electoral Reform Bill will become law, beyond saying that I think the extension of the life of Parliament has always been consequent upon the exigencies of the War, and not on something which has really nothing to do with the War. I would point out to my hon. Friend below the Gangway that if his Amendment were carried, the result of it would be that we should have to sit from the 1st of December up to the 30th January, but in December we adjourn for something like three weeks, and I think that last year we adjourned for a considerably longer period than three weeks; so that of the proposed extension of two months there would be lost at least three weeks. But it would be within the power of this House, if it found at the end of November that there was a certain amount of necessary business to be done, to then extend the life of Parliament for the period necessary to do that work, instead of accepting the Amendment as now proposed. The method I suggest would, I think, be the proper way to deal with the matter. My hon. Friend (Mr. Peto) is a believer in the rights of private Members. May I point out to him that the longer he extends the life of Parliament the less control he has over the Government, and by keeping the life of Parliament short he will possess greater control over the Government. He would have more power over the Government in regard to the bringing in of an Electoral Reform Bill, for he could say that he should not vote for the further prolongation of the life of Parliament without an Electoral Reform Bill being brought in. My hon. Friend has really moved an Amendment 1688 which defeats his own end. The hon. and learned Member on the other side (Sir Ryland Adkins) said that this Parliament was elected for seven years and on a principle which had been in existence for 200 years Who altered that practice but the hon. Gentleman himself, who was a supporter of the alteration to five years? He was the supporter of the alteration of a principle which had been in existence for 200 years. He supported the Parliament Bill, which was a revolution—
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I do not see that our being at war has anything to do with the alteration of a principle which had existed for 200 years. This principle was altered years before the War broke out. The hon. and learned Gentleman opposite supported the alteration of that principle when there was no war, and when he seemed to think that there could be no war.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I was becoming aware of that fact, and I apologise, Sir, for having been led away into this subject. However, I have nothing further to add to what I have said beyond congratulating my right hon. Friend opposite in adhering to the proposal in the Bill.
§ Mr. SWIFT MacNEILL
Just for once I am in accord with my right hon. Friend (Sir F. Banbury), and in that I hope I am doing nothing wrong. I am not quite-in accord, on the contrary with my hon. and learned Friend in regard to the practice under the Septennial Act of 1716 to 1911, when the Parliament Act was passed.
§ Sir R. ADKINS
I did not say that Parliament sat; I said that the law of the duration of Parliament was seven years.
§ Mr. S. MacNEILL
My hon. and learned Friend knows that law is one thing, and practice is a very different thing. This Parliament has existed now for a longer period than any Parliament since the Septennial Act of 1716. I oppose this Amend- 1689 ment because it practically restores the Septennial Act. Will the House believe that the only longest Parliament in the last century was the Parliament which met in 1820, and lasted six years and a few months. Sir Henry Fowler, so far back at 1892, in the House of Commons, brought forward a Motion in favour of triennial Parliaments, or of shortening the life of Parliament. Sir Henry Fowler proved conclusively that though they were under the Septennial Act, no Parliament during the last century ever sat for a longer period than six years and a few months. In the Debate in 1892 Sir Henry Fowler said:A new Parliament was called together in 1820, and that was the longest Parliament of the century, and under Lord Liverpool lasted until 1826, its actual duration being a few days over the Six years.That was in the sleepy days of Lord Liverpool, who was in fact a walking coercionist and corruptionist. Sir Henry-Fowler continued:No Parliament after that expired by effluxion of time until the Parliament of 1841, the Parliament which put Sir Robert Peel in power. Then Parliament was dissolved in 1817 and if Sir Robert Peel is accepted on the one side of the House, surely on the other Lord John Russel will be accepted an a great constitutional authority. When Lord John Russel was called upon to construe the Septennial Act his construction corresponded with that of Mr. Pitt and Lord Liverpool, and he dissolved the Parliament of 1841 in the year 1847.Sir Henry Fowler went on to prove that not one of the other Parliaments existed longer than six years and a few days. In that Debate my recollection is that my right hon. Friend (Mr. Hayes Fisher) took part, and was then against the curtailment of the life of Parliament, and, if so, he has been so much consistent. I simply desire to give these references to what occurred well within my recollection and to show how far the Government, by proposing an unconstitutional Act like this, give encouragement to others like my hon. Friend below to go beyond the beyonds. If this Amendment were carried it would give an opportunity for the existence of Parliament for a longer period than a Parliament has ever existed since 1716, and that is a very strong expression.
§ Colonel Sir CHARLES SEELY
I quite see the difficulty the Government are in in not liking to propose a longer term of extension than has been proposed by any previous Government. But I should like to suggest to them that if they were to leave it to the decision of the House as to whether the extension should be for 1690 seven or eight or for nine months, that would be quite a reasonable position for them to adopt. I am sorry to disagree with my right hon. Friend the Member for the City (Sir F. Banbury), but I really do think from the point of view of Members and of the proper respect which Parliament ought to pay to its own Rule? and constitution, we should be wiser to extend the period to the full term of seven years. This Parliament was elected for seven years. I did not vote for the alteration because I was not a Member of the House at the time. If I had been here I should have objected. I have always thought it a very foolish alteration, and that our ancestors were wiser when they gave a longer period. What has just been said by the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. S. MacNcill) bears out the wisdom which was shown by them in their Septennial Act, because it is wise to give to every Parliament a good deal of margin for emergencies. Those emergencies have occurred, and this difficulty has arisen in consequence of the alteration from seven years to five. I therefore think that we should be wise to go back to the previous arrangement. I press it also on the consideration of the House for this reason: It is not really, after all, a very serious matter for a Parliament which was elected for seven years and which altered the time of its own free will to change its mind and again make the term seven years. It will be a very grave and serious matter if we are obliged, as we may be, to go further than the distance for which our constituents elected us. I do think, and I ask the Government and the House to consider this view, that we should be wiser to make our term seven years. I think, as a matter of constitution and for our dignity, we should be quite wise in extending to the seven years. If we extend to the 30lh November we may be just in the middle of an Autumn Session, and before Christmas is not a convenient time, so that it would be clearly better to extend to the 31st January, and if anything were to happen which did not require an Autumn Session you would be able to consider a further extension in January. I do press the Government to leave it to the House to decide as to the number of months. It is not such a very serious matter, and I do not think that any of the constituencies would think we were doing anything wrong in making it nine months instead of seven.
§ Mr. BOOTH
I do not agree with the last speaker if he is at all claiming to voice the rights of private Members. I have some sympathy with the point, but you could only get independence of Members if, instead of permitting Parliament to last so many months, you decree that it shall last for a particular time. That would give you a fixed time, such as they have in the United States and in France. But so long as the Government can come down, and because even an Under-Secretary has been impudent to some Member at Question Time, and can say, "We make this a question of confidence, and if you touch this little office boy of ours we all got out"; as long as that can be done and Members threatened with a Dissolution, you have the position of Members undermined. I believe the question of payment of £400 per year to Members has a distinct bearing on the matter, and that Members at the present time vote for this Motion and for these Bills extending the duration of the House much more freely because they are getting the £400 per year. I do not say that that influences a great many minds, but unconsciously it operates, and if we are going into the whole question these things should be pointed out and admitted. I am sure that is one of the effects of the payment of Members, and always will be.
The right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill, to my mind, rather took up a position of extreme Radicalism. I would say, as one of the most conservative-minded Members, that he must not be led by the Russian example and these days of democracy to wander too far in the paths of extreme Radicalism. He practically assured the House that at the end of November they could pass another Bill extending the life of Parliament for a couple of months without any trouble. But the right hon. Gentleman must not forget, good Conservative as he used to be, that there is another House. Surely it might be the case that another place, not liking the great bulk of voters sweeping on to the register, might prefer the old lot whom they knew, rather than those on the new register whom they did not know. For my right hon. Friend to come down and say that this House can pass a further extension in a few minutes is a deplorable lack of those Conservative tendencies of which we regard him as one of the bulwarks. Every time the Government bring in a Bill of this kind they must recognise that this House is not 1692 the arbiter of its own destinies, but is combined with another place. I was not sent here to champion the other House in preference to this, but at the same time one cannot shut one's eyes to plain facts, and they have power co-equal with ours on such a question as this Amendment. Therefore I utter the warning that every time the Government bring in a Bill like this they are really decreeing that another place as well as this House shall say whether there shall be a General Election or not. I can quite understand, if a majority of the peers were against women's suffrage or manhood suffrage or things of that kind, they might do what an hon. Friend did here yesterday when he said he would sooner have a General Election than this Reform Bill. I take it that the right hon. Gentleman can assure the House that if he gets this Bill in the form in which he wishes it will not be interfered with at the other end of the corridor. Having that assurance from my right hon. Friend, I would encourage him to resist this Amendment.
§ Mr. DILLON
I have already expressed my view that any extension of the life of this House should be reduced to the narrowest possible limit. There is one all important question which really overshadows and ought to dominate our Debate on this Amendment and the whole Debate, and that is the question whether the Government seriously intend to put through the Reform Bill before we have a General Election. I think it is really a very extraordinary state of things and extremely symptomatic of the conditions into which this House has been allowed to drift that, in a Bill of this character and of this enormous importance, the House should be deserted absolutely by Ministers of the Crown. We have left to take charge of the Parliament Bill an Under-Secretary who is wholly incapable of giving us the assurances for which we are entitled to ask. Surely, when we are cut down to this condition of things, that at the present time there is only one member of the Cabinet who has the right to enter this House—[An HON. MEMBER: "Two!"]. At all events, we are only favoured by the presence of one member of the Cabinet, and no representative of the Government can give us such assurances as we are entitled to ask for except a member of the Cabinet. I want to know, before we go further in this discussion, what are the real intentions of the Government as to the Reform Bill. I 1693 must confess that my attitude towards this Bill would be very considerably modified—I still hold the view which I expressed yesterday as regards an election from the Irish point of view—if I could obtain any reasonable assurance that the Government are seriously resolved to put the Reform Bill through.
The present Government are, or at all events have the outward form of being, a Government of great power, and they are practically in a position of putting a pistol to the heads of this House and of the other House, and any legislation which they undertake to say as a united Cabinet and Government is a war measure necessary for the successful prosecution of the War, and the maintenance of good will and union amongst the nation, the House of Lords would not dare to throw out. That is an absolute fact, and we are absolutely in the dark—I am, and I believe the whole House is—as to the real intentions of the Government on the Reform Bill. The Government cannot pass the Reform Bill by simply using pious expressions or by simply introducing it and doing what was done in the case of half a dozen other Bills whose fate we all remember, where the late Prime Minister came down and declared them to be absolutely necessary and then about three days afterwards dropped them. If that game is going to be played again on the House of Commons, it is not good enough. It has been played two or three times too often, and we ought to know, before we decide these questions, as to the length of the life of this Parliament, whether the Government mean to declare to the House of Lords and to the House of Commons that the Reform Bill is an essential war measure and must be passed. Everybody knows perfectly well that if the Government took up that attitude the Bill would go through, but at present my impression is that the Bill will not pass and that the Government have no intention of dealing with it in such a way as to enable it to pass through both Houses.
I want now to ask you a question which is a very important question for all of us, and I should like to move an Amendment. My hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Swift MaeNeill) has pointed out to me that the Long Parliament—the last case in English history in which Parliament prolonged its existence, as we have been doing now, habitually—did not give the Government of that day the power to terminate their existence at their free will, but the Long 1694 Parliament said they would continue to exist at their own pleasure and that no Government could break them up. What I want to know is this, whether I should be in order in moving an Amendment prolonging the life of this Parliament until the Reform Bill became law. If there is no real intention to pass the Reform Bill, then this whole thing is moribund, because one of the main purposes put forward by the ex-Prime Minister yesterday was the farce of holding an election on the present register. I agree that it would be a great farce and that it would not represent the nation, and, therefore, if a prospect is held out to us that by continuing this most objectionable procedure of prolonging the life of Parliament by its own act we could get an assurance that we would by that means secure a General Election on a greatly extended franchise and with a reformed register, the Government would be in a much stronger position. I fully expected when the Leader of the House was making his speech that he would make a firm statement on this question, and would announce the determination of the Government to pass the Reform Bill. This Government can do it. There is not the smallest doubt they can do it. Does anybody contend that, if the House of Lords knew they would overthrow the Government by rejecting the Reform Bill, they would attempt to do anything of the kind in the face of the War or even seriously to embarrass the Government? Everybody knows they would not, and, therefore, this Government have it in their power to give a definite pledge that before the end of this time they will pass that Bill into law. Are they prepared to do that, because that really is a matter that we ought to know before we proceed to deal with these Amendments? I would like to ask you, Sir, whether, before I submit my Amendment, I would be in order in moving that the life of this Parliament should be prolonged until such period as the Reform Bill is passed into law and a new register prepared, and that the power to dissolve Parliament should be done away with?
§ Mr. S. MacNEILL
On a point of Order. May I submit to your consideration, Sir, that in the various Statutes in reference to the Home Rule Act there is a provision that the Act should not come into operation until the time of the peace, that being a defined time? On the same analogy, of course, the Amendment suggested by my hon. Friend, which would probably be a 1695 fresh Clause to the Bill, would be completely in order and within Parliamentary cognisance.
In reply to the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon), I am always very chary of giving an opinion on an Amendment which I have not yet seen. I have been doing my best to draft it for him in my head, and the only way that I can see is something like this, that, instead of six years and ten months, we should insert a period called x, x being the time at which a certain Bill not yet introduced shall have been passed by this and another House of Parliament. It seems to be a difficult matter, but I will wait until I see the hon. Member's Amendment.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
May I very humbly submit to you, Sir, that an Amendment of that sort would destroy the prerogative of the Crown, as it would prevent the Crown dissolving Parliament if it thought right to do so?
§ Mr. DILLON
Why I was encouraged to raise this matter was that my hon. and learned Friend (Mr. MacNeill) pointed out that the Long Parliament did it while the Crown was in existence and that the Crown assented. I should have taken the view of the right hon. Baronet (Sir F. Banbury) but for the fact that we have this precedent.
§ Mr. MacNEILL
I am not presuming to inform you, Sir, but I am trying to inform the House in matters of prerogative. The consent of the Crown can be at any stage of the Bill stated to the House at the proper time. The consent of the Crown is not a condition precedent to the introduction of a Bill, but may be given at any stage of a Bill up to the Third Reading, and can be given through a Minister of the Crown stating that the Crown lays its prerogative in this respect at the service of the House, or that it withdraws any objectionable barrier that may be in the way.
It is correct to say that that is the usual procedure when dealing with Royal prerogatives, and it was hardly anticipated when this measure was read a second time yesterday that so large a question would be raised, and at present I can only express my doubts whether an Amendment could be submitted to me in the sense indicated by the hon. Member for East Mayo.
§ Mr. HAYES FISHER
I am not going into the argument touching the prerogative of the Crown or into the precedents derived from the Long Parliament, but if I may have the attention of the hon. Member for East Mayo, who asked just now whether the Government could give an assurance that they were in earnest about the Electoral Reform Bill, and that they will pass that Bill, perhaps he will accept a few words from me as one of those who is now busily engaged in framing it. The Government are thoroughly in earnest regarding the passage of that Reform Bill, and are busily framing that Bill, and hope, so soon as they can find time to frame the Bill, which of course is not an easy one to frame, and so soon as the House of Commons can find time to give due attention to that Bill, to present it to the House; but whether the Government will be able to pass that Bill is entirely another matter. The passage of the Bill depends on the good will of the House and must depend on the good will of the House. That is quite obvious. The Bill itself is framed upon Resolutions that are the results of something in the nature of a compromise on questions which arouse an immense amount of controversy, and unless the Government find the House in the same mood and the same kind of temper in which they found the Conference, and unless these great questions are treated in a practical, businesslike way, and in a somewhat short way, so far as discussion is concerned by the House, it would obviously be impossible, looking to all the other business that the Government must transact in connection with the War, particularly financial business, to force a Bill of that nature, which must be a very large Bill, dealing with many subjects, through the House. But I can give this assurance, on the part of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and the Government, that the Government are most anxious to see that Electoral Reform Bill pass into law, and that they are not putting it on the floor of the House merely because they feel bound to do so after the Debate which took place, and after the labour bestowed upon that subject both by the Conference and by Mr. Speaker. It is not that they feel bound to present the Bill, but because they are really in earnest in trying to solve the problem. They hope the House will be in earnest and will treat the Bill in a businesslike and practical way, and then they will be 1697 able to feel a reasonable amount of confidence that they can pass the Bill within a reasonable time and within such a period as to enable them to get to work upon the register, without which the Bill could be of no practical value, so that at all events in the beginning of next year we may be able to have an election should we desire it, not on the old register, but on the new register, containing the new electorate, which will be added to by many millions doubtless under the Bill.
§ Mr. DILLON
I am afraid- I cannot accept that as an assurance at all. On the contrary, I listened most attentively to the right hon. Genleman, and I concluded that the prospects of the passing of the Bill are exceedingly bad. If I ask any further questions on the matter I think I ought to address them to the right hon. Baronet (Sir F. Banbury), because it depends upon his temper and the temper of his friends whether the Bill is to get any chance at all. The declaration now made by the Government merely indicates that if that Bill is met by determined opposition the Government will make no serious attempt to pass it.
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ Mr. BILLING
I should like to support this Amendment, and I should be more pleased if it went a little further. This House has prolonged its own life on two occasions. The principal excuse it gave for prolonging its own life was that it was impossible to go to the country because there was no register on which to do it. I have had personal experience in the difficulties that I encountered in conducting an election with the existing register, and I would point out that if is not only impossible but, what is more, it is most unjust for this Government or any Government to go to the country presumably to test the opinion of the people when they will only be able to ask about -25 per cent., not of the population, mark you, but of those people who were entitled to vote at the last election. I think it can reasonably be assumed that the only people who could vote if we went to an election to-morrow are the people who have been in no way affected by this War. Because, what are the actual facts. Any man who has been in any way affected by this War will not be in a position to vote, for the simple reason that he is either out at the front, or is engaged in some munition work or war work, or, as an hon. Gentleman 1698 suggests, is a conscientious objector. Personally I should disfranchise the lot at once; but to proceed with my argument let mo say that there is hardly a case where the work on which a man who has taken an active part in war work, where he was not interested in war work before, is engaged, has not necessitated the changing of his address. The result would be that in practically every constituency 50 per cent. of the votes would be out-voters, and many who have been moved to munition works in Scotland and all over the country would find it utterly impossible to come from those parts to vote at their own expense, while I understand it is not allowed that it should be done at the expense of the candidate, or rather at the expense of the organisation which the candidate has behind him. I understand, therefore, that if this Government does go to the country the most they will get will be a vote from about 25 per cent. of the people themselves. What would this 25 per cent. be? They would be all the old shell-back Liberals and Conservatives whose ages make it absolutely impossible for them to have any interest in the conduct of this War actively. In these circumstances, I think it is a most immoral thing, considering the opinion of the public as to party methods, the party organisation, the party machine, and its general conduct of public affairs, that we should make a direct appeal only to the supporters of such machinery.
The Government is asking now for six months' extension. The Government knows perfectly well that at the end of six months it will have to come down here again and ask for another six months. It might just as well put its cards on the table now. We have had an admission from the Front Bench this afternoon that it is impossible to prepare the register in seven months. It will have to come down here again. It knows that whereas if it prolonged its life for nine months according to the statement from the Front Bench it would be possible in the next three months to pass the new Franchise Bill, and then six months would be left to the Government for the preparation of this register, with regard to which I personally do not see the enormous difficulties which were pointed out by the right hon Gentleman on the Front Bench this afternoon. Directly there is anything the Government does not want to do, that always 1699 presents enormous difficulties; but surely this Government at least appreciates that the governing of a country and an empire does present enormous difficulties. It is because this House has such great confidence in their ability to meet those enormous difficulties that presumably they sit where they do. It is the business of the Government to overcome enormous difficulties, and so far as the enormous difficulty of the register, of the house-to-house canvass, is concerned, surely the members of the Front Bench know that this house-to-house canvass is, and has been, going on all over the country for purposes of rates, and every other purpose. As for the printing of the register, the exceptional necessity for taking the temper of the people and a referendum of the nation at any given moment in the next twelve months would justify possibly exceptional methods. There is no need to print twenty or thirty registers. These registers could be prepared without printing. The machinery already employed in many offices for duplicating correspondence could be employed for procuring these registers, and I suggest to this House that there are many firms who would willingly undertake to produce the register when once the names, addresses and qualifications were available, in nearer one month than six months. Just because we have always gone through an elaborate procedure, and have set up the register in five different fonts of type, and bound it, and made it pretty to handle, in days of peace that is no reason why we should do so to-day. Provided we have sufficient copies of the names, addresses and qualifications of voters to render it possible to have an election I would suggest that is all that is necessary.
I have heard an hon. Member on the other side of the. House say that at moments it was necessary to have a longer duration of Parliament than in the past because of exceptional incidents occurring when it might be unsafe to consult the people. Really, it is an extraordinary thing if this House is of the opinion that it is wrong to consult the people of this country. Personally, I think that when any extraordinary thing happens it is right to consult the people of the country, and what amazes me the more I see of this House is that while hon. and right hon. Members rise up and say that it is 1700 absolutely impossible to go to the country because we have no register with which to do it—and I have heard that said for fifteen months—yet no step has been taken to provide a register. The longer the Government put off providing this register, presumably the longer they will live. I do not suggest that there is a necessity for turning the present Government out. That is beside the question. I think every man—and if the franchise is to be extended to women, every man and every woman—has the right to say that the Government should immediately set up the machinery to consult it if and when it is necessary to consult it. It seems to me a most extraordinary proceeding that we should continue in this House to urge the utter impossibility of consulting the people, and yet take no steps whatsoever to set machinery up which we say is absolutely necessary. An hon. Member behind me made some reference to the salaries of Members, rendering them anxious not to upset the Government. I quite fail to see that. Surely the hon. Member must know that there are very few seats in this country which can be fought under a couple of thousand pounds, and if he had said that—
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Mr. Maclean)
I do not recognise the relevance of these remarks to the particular Amendment before the Committee.
§ Mr. BILLING
Knowing how difficult it is to keep in order. I will be very careful and consult my notes. There is one other point I wanted to raise, and that is that this present extension comes to an end in November. I think it is reasonable to assume that that particular time will be a highly critical time in the conduct and affairs of this War, if by that time an armistice or peace has not been arrived at. I think it will be a most unfortunate thing for the Government to come down, as they would, and to plead the crisis that may be then occurringwhich may not be altogether unassociated with food and famine as a reason for an extension for another six or twelve months If possible, I would like to suggest that the Government should give an 1701 undertaking that if their life is extended on this occasion they will press forward with the Bill for the new franchise, and that, failing that, if within three months from now they find it impossible to pass that Bill through the House, they will pre-pare a new register on the old lines. I quite fail to see why, if we cannot get the Franchise Bill through, we should continue to disfranchise the millions of men who at present, from some technical disability, have no vote in this country. I suggest that 75 per cent. of the men in this country who would be entitled to a vote, even if a new register were prepared on the old lines, have no vote to-day. I am quite sure that the feeling of the people outside is one of intense irritation and dissatisfaction that this House is calmly prolonging its own life and taking no steps whatsoever to enable the people to express their opinion in any way. I consider, therefore, that the Amendment put down is one which ought to be left to the House of Commons, as distinct from the Government, to be decided. But I would also suggest, if it would be in order to make such a suggestion, and I do not know whether the Amendment will provide for it, that a should not be within the power of the Government to terminate their own lives during that period, because we have had some little experience quite recently of the Government's methods. Personally, I have not the slightest confidence in either Front Bench when it comes to a question of whether they will terminate or whether they will prolong their own lives in the interests of the country, and as distinct from their own. I have said in this House before, and I say it again, that it is simply a question of expediency: whether it will pay the Government at any given moment, perhaps one month after this Bill has been given to them, to come and take a snap vote of confidence here on some trivial matter and then turn round to the country and say, "How can we conduct this War; how can we go on with all this opposition in the House?" They might take some popular election cry, as has been seen again and again, and go to the country on some issue which it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to get a representative opinion upon. Therefore, I think that if this House prolongs its life, and that of the Government, it should certainly be on the understanding that it shall not be 1702 within the power of the Government to play fast and loose with the House of Commons. If some sort of Amendment can be put down to give effect to that view. I shall be very pleased to support it.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I beg to move to leave out the word "ten" ["six years and ten months"], and to insert instead thereof the word "eight."
The Amendment which I move is exactly the contrary to the Amendment which my hon. Friend has withdrawn. My Amendment is calculated to reduce the time from seven months to five months. I very much hope that the Government will accept the Amendment. I am fortified in putting forward this proposal by what took place when the last prolongation of the life of Parliament was passed. Upon that occasion the present First Lord of the Admiralty made an extremely able speech, in which he said that if it was necessary to prolong the life of Parliament it should be prolonged for as short a time as possible. On that occasion he continued:I put down six months as a compromise between the eight mouths in the Bill and what is preferred by a huge number of those who consult with me, namely, four months.I carry it a little further, for my Amendment will provide for five months. I should also like to draw the attention of the Government and of the House, and especially of the Government, to the following words of the right hon. Gentleman in the speech to which I refer. He said:may I point out to the hon. Member who moved this Amendment that the extension by ourselves of our own life is a very serious proposition? It is only the absolute exigencies of the War that can justify it, if it can be justified at all."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th August, 1916, col. 2168, Vol. LXXXV."]The right hon. and learned Gentleman went on to say:In point of fact at the present moment we hardly represent anybody.I do not think the situation has changed. Even if it has changed at all, it has changed for the worse. That is to say, that as seven months have gone by, we are still less representative than we were 1703 at that time of the opinion of the country. The right hon. and learned Gentleman continued:I suppose we represent above 25 per cent. of the electors. We boast that we are representative of the people. We are not, or only a little more than the House of Lords are. You were not elected upon these issues that have arisen.I will not read the whole of the speech of my right hon. and learned Friend, though it is a very interesting one, but I hope he will read it himself. I am sorry he is not here to listen to what I have to say. He continued:Therefore, at all events, I think that. compatible with convenience, we ought to extend the life of this Parliament from time to time for the very shortest period that is convenient and not for the longest period."—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, 17th August, 1916. col. 2169, Vol. LX XXV.]
§ Sir F. BANBURY
The present First Lord of the Admiralty the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin. Following that very excellent example I am proposing that the extension of the life of this Parliament should be for only five months, and not for seven. That is to say, that it should terminate on 30th September. That seems to me to be a most convenient date, because, if by any good fortune the War was to finish before the end of the summer we then should be in a position to decide—this House would be in a position to decide—and I should like to impress that fact upon hon. Members—it would not be for the Government to decade whether or not they should go to the country, it would be for this House to decide.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
And the other—for Parliament to decide—Parliament, that is right, whether or not its life should be prolonged. If the two Houses agreed that a little further time should be given it would be in their power to settle it. It would not be an inconvenient moment either, because this House generally adjourns somewhere towards the end of August, and it could meet again in the middle of September, and if it were necessary so to do could prolong its life. The question of whether or not the other House should have a voice in the matter is, I think, extremely important. It must be remembered that when the septennial period was cut down and the quinquennial period substituted the powers 1704 of the other House were curtailed. That was one of the reasons for cutting it down. It was said by the late Prime Minister that after, I think, four years this House no longer represented the country. Therefore, as the whole power under the Parliament Act would remain in the hands of the Members of this House, it was not right that they should be returned for more than five years. My recollection is that the right hon. Gentleman said the last year—perhaps he said two—but anyhow he said that in the last year the House of Commons, or the proceedings in the House, neither interested the country nor represented it. I think I have shown very good reason why this extension should be only for five months, and not for seven. On the last occasion, I admit, it was extended for seven months, but it must be remembered that that extension was a month shorter, than the previous extension; therefore, if we are going on precedent, we ought to make this time six months, being a month shorter than the last extension. I see the hon. Member below the Gangway (Mr. Hazleton) has a somewhat similar Amendment. I do not know whether hon. Members below the Gangway will support this Amendment of mine. If I may say so, I think it is a little better and more sufficient than the hon. Member's, because he would make this House terminate on 30th August, which is rather an inconvenient time. On the other hand, as I have said, 30th September is an extremely convenient time.
§ Sir J. D. REES
I am somewhat surprised that my right hon. Friend has moved this Amendment, because I should have thought that he, like myself, was one of those who deplored the Act which reduced the term of the life of Parliament. It seems to me that after all we are in that position.
§ Sir J. D. REES
Well, my right hon. Friend's Amendment does tend to reduce the life of this Parliament, which was originally elected for seven years. It is quite true its life has been shortened to five years under deplorable circumstances, and the right hon. Gentleman is now for reducing the period. Surely whether Parliament ends in September or October is now a matter of very little importance? Whether it is a particular date or another matters little in the crisis in which we live. What I venture to submit to the House is 1705 of importance is that there should be no election during the War. When the late Prime Minister announced in the House that he had given way to representations coming from the opposite side of the House—and the difficulty now is to know to which side of the House one belongs—coming from the side of the House upon which I sat then, I was the only Member of the House who ventured to urge him to stick to his guns and to have the longest possible prolongation of the life of this Parliament. It would be unfortunate to reduce this period which the Government themselves have proposed. There is, I confess, a sort of retribution in making the period seven years, which to me has an extreme attraction. Those who regretted the reduction from the septennial to the quinquennial period could only rejoice if, in a period of crisis, of stress and storm, it should come out that after all the true inwardness of the former charge was deplorable political circumstance, and no real necessity.
No one can tell when the War will be over. Originally it was proposed that the life of this Parliament should be prolonged for the period of the War. Nobody is now protesting that Parliament does not represent the people and that there must be an election. The only Voice that is heard in that way is heard within these walls. One does not hear an echo outside. People are perfectly content.
§ Sir J. D. REES
Well, perhaps some newspapers. Perhaps the "Nation." I do not know. My hon. Friend no doubt is right. He would not have been right if he had said most newspapers, and he does not say that. If he had, he, at any rate, would have failed to convince me. What is required is that the life of Parliament should be prolonged for the longest period, but that the Parliament, whose life is so prolonged, should cease from introducing subjects of a controversial character, such as it proposes to introduce during its extended life. I refer to subjects such as female suffrage, further interference—shall I say persecution—of the liquor trade, the introduction of Bills like the Criminal Law Amendment Bill, all which questions, whether they be right or wrong in what they are going to do, anybody who is kind enough to hear me, will admit are controversial to the core! Let the Government drop all these matters which are pressed 1706 upon them by small sections—I do not like to be betrayed into using any disrespectful expressions—but which are not, at any rate, pressed upon them by the country. If they would drop all these controversial matters and confine themselves to the prosecution of the War, I believe the whole country would say, "Let them have seven months." They would indeed give them another seven years if necessary, but surely the War—now a war of nations—cannot last very much longer I The Prime Minister did say in his proposal here, and I thank him heartily for it, that during the remaining period proportional representation, at any rate, was not going to be introduced. That is almost the only controversial factor which he left out of the programme. I venture with great respect to oppose the Amendment of my right hon. Friend with whom I am most generally in the most hearty agreement. Questions of September or October do not matter. Let us leave the Government free to prosecute the War by giving them the whole period for which they ask, and begging them in return to drop all controversial subjects, and not to put too strong a strain upon loyal supporters who are asked to swallow female suffrage, total abolition, proportional representation, Criminal Law Amendment, and every other kind of controversial thing, while they are honestly and honourably supporting the Government in their great task of finishing the War.
§ Mr. HAYES FISHER
I am not going to delay the Debate by entering into the question as to what use is going to be made of the time.
§ Mr. HAYES FISHER
It may be vital to the Bill, but it might mean the death of the Bill if we had to debate all these topics. The Bill carries the life of this Parliament to the 30th November. The Amendment of the hon. Member for Devizes would have extended the possibility of the life of Parliament for two more months, until the end of January, 1918. My right hon. Friend the Member for the City of London wants to lop off two months of the period which the Government purpose. I think the compromise which the Government have made between 31st January and 30th September, namely, 30th November, is a compromise which, on the whole, is acceptable to the House of Commons, who, after all, 1707 are perhaps the best judges of matters of this kind, and the date which the Government have chosen, after very careful consideration, is the date to which they intend to adhere. I cannot agree that 30th September would be a very conveninent date, because if it were necessary, owing to circumstances connected with the War, to bring in another Bill to extend that period beyond 30th September, I think it would be extremely awkward perhaps to call Parliament together in September in order to debate the question; and if it were necessary to have an election in September, I cannot help thinking that the Minister responsible for the Board of Agriculture and the production of food would have a good deal to say as to the question whether it would be convenient to hold an election in the month of September, and so take away from all field and harvest operations those engaged in that work.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I would remind my right hon. Friend that the Government, of which he was a member, in the Boer War in 1900, had an election in September.
§ Mr. HAYES FISHER
But will my right hon. Friend say that the food problem was then of so much consideration as it is at the present moment? Even if the War should be over then, or even happily over in June or July, or indeed whether we have peace next year, the pressure of the food supply is likely to be a problem of the greatest importance, so that I cannot agree with my right hon. Friend in saying that September is a favourable month. Anyhow, the Government adhere to the date that they have put in the Bill, namely, 30th November.
There was one statement made by the right hon. Gentleman which rather astonished me, namely, that the Government would adhere to the compromise which this Bill represents. The Government have offered no compromise. There are a large number of Members in this House who consider that there ought to be, in the circumstances in which we find ourselves, no prolongation of the life of Parliament at all. The Government, however, have not taken that view; they have brought in a Bill to prolong the life of Parliament for seven months, and although proposals have been made on the one side to extend that time, and on the 1708 other side and from these benches to reduce it, the Government are holding fast to their Bill, and I certainly fail to see where the nature of a compromise is in that transaction.
§ Mr. HAYES FISHER
It is a compromise between the Amendments proposed. I do not think the hon. Member was present when the Amendment of the hon. Member for Devizes was before the Committee.
I was here through the whole Debate. I want to point out to the right hon. Gentleman that the course which the Government are taking on this occasion is a wholly different course from that taken by his Government and that of his predecessors on the former occasions when similar Bills to extend the life of Parliament were before the House of Commons. What happened the first time? The Government introduced a Bill to prolong the life of Parliament by twelve months, and, under pressure from various quarters in the House of Commons, that period was reduced to eight months, so that the Government gave way on that occasion by four months. The next time when it was necessary to introduce a similar Bill the period proposed by the Government was eight months, and, as the right hon. Baronet pointed out, that provision was opposed by the present First Lord of the Admiralty, and again the Government gave way and changed their provision in the Bill from eight months to seven months. The right hon. Baronet quoted some remarkable passages from the speeches made on the occasion of the Second Reading of that Bill by the present First Lord of the Admiralty, who was very concerned on that occasion to see that Parliament should keep some control over the conduct of the Government. Now that he is a member of the Government, of course he does not come near the House of Commons. He has lost all that interest for Parliamentary control, but I think it is difficult for him to escape the position in which he placed himself by his speeches on that occasion. The right hon. Baronet quoted one speech. I will quote another, on the introduction of the Bill last year. He said:I think the Government are asking too much in asking us to give them eight months. I see no necessity for it. The next eight months may be fraught with questions of vast importance to the whole body politic. All the questions may arise during those eight months which will affect the lives and interests of the entire community for ages to come. This is not 1709 the time to elaborate that. but I hope my right hon. Friend will not lay down that period of eight months as a matter to which the Government absolutely adhere, but that it will be open to argument either on the Second Heading or the Committee stage of the Bill."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th August, 1916, col. 1459, Vol. LXXXV.]Now, the fundamental misconception in the mind of the Minister in charge of this Bill is that he takes it for granted that if you put six months, or five months, or four months into this Bill as the period for which the life of Parliament will be renewed, it means that you are going to have an election then, and he says, "Oh, August or September would not be a convenient month for an election." The right hon. Baronet suggested, I think, that August would not be a convenient month for an election, and August is the month mentioned in my Amendment on the Paper. But we need not necessarily have an election then. The life of Parliament was already expiring twice, and we continued it beyond that time. What we want is not that you shall have an election at the time fixed in this Bill, but that there shall be control over the conduct of the Government, and that it is to the interest of this country and the interest of this House to give the Government the shortest possible time, consistent with convenience, so that we may have some regulation and some opportunity of holding them up if we believe that they are taking a course contrary to the public interest.
I think for these reasons that the Government are taking a reactionary course to-day in refusing to listen, as they have done, to the voice of the House of Commons, as their predecessors did on former occasions when their Bills were altered in Committee and the times proposed by them were further reduced. I would also like to impress this consideration upon the Committee, that the longer it is necessary to prolong the existence of Parliament the more careful we ought to be as to the period that we give the House, because undoubtedly, however necessity may be urged, the fact remains that it is a reactionary proceeding—that it is, at least, an unfortunate proceeding, due to an unfortunate necessity, and that it is getting worse and worse upon each occasion that the necessity arises. I hope that the last word has not been spoken by the right hon. Gentleman from his point of view; and that he will recognise that what we want is a review of the time given to 1710 the Government, and the time given for the existence of this House, and that we do not necessarily say that at the moment that time expires the Government is not perfectly entitled to come down to the House of Commons and show, if they are in a position to show, that it is desirable to give them a lease of life for the House of Commons.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
May I, in answer to what my right hon. Friend said in regard to an election in September, point out that what the hon. Member below the Gangway said is my intention? It was not my intention to force an election in September, but we want to have the power, if we find the Government are not doing their duty, of saying to them, "You shall not go on." That power is a very vital one to this House, and it is important in these days, when the Government do not pay much attention to the House of Commons, to have some reserve of that sort in your hands. With regard to an election in September, may I point out that in all probability, if the War were continuing, a further extension would be given, and that an election would not take place unless the War were over? Therefore the question would not arise. May I also point out, as my right hon. Friend is perfectly well aware, that there is during the month of September at least two or three hours every morning in which the agricultural labourer cannot get on with the harvest, because the corn cannot be collected until the dew is off? Therefore there is plenty of time for the agricultural labourer to record his vote, without in any way interfering with the collection of food.
§ Mr. P. MEEHAN
This Bill would give a new lease of life to this Parliament, and incidentally, to a Government which has failed in its obligations towards Ireland, and by its shilly-shallying delay in declaring its intention towards that country, has strained to a great extent the relations existing at the beginning of the War.
§ Question put, "That the word 'ten' stand part of the Clause."
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 265; Noes, 51.1713
|Division No. 29.]||AYES.||[5.45 p.m.|
|Adamson, William||Gilbert, J. D.||Millar, James Duncan|
|Adkins, Sir W. Ryland D.||Goddard, Rt. Hon. Sir Daniel Ford||Mond, Rt. Hon. Sir Alfred|
|Agg-Gardner, Sir James Tynto||Goulding, Sir Edward Alfred||Money, Sir L. G. Chiozza|
|Agnew, Sir George William||Greenwood, Sir G. G. (Peterborough)||Montagu, Rt. Hon, E. S.|
|Ainsworth, Sir John Stirling||Greenwood, Sir Hamar (Sunderland)||Moore, William|
|Allen, Arthur A. (Dumbartonshire)||Greig, Colonel James William||Morgan, George Hay|
|Baker, Joseph Allen (Finsbury, E.)||Gretten, John||Morison, Hector (Hackney, S.)|
|Banner, Sir John S. Harmood-||Guest, Hon. Major C. H. C. (Pembroke)||Morison, Thomas B. (Inverness)|
|Baldwin, Stanley||Gulland, Rt. Hon. John William||Morrell, Phillip|
|Baring, Sir Godfrey (Barnstaple)||Gwynne, R. S. (Sussex, Eastbourne)||Morton, Alpheus Cleophas|
|Barlow, Montague (Salford, South)||Haddock, George Barr||Needham, Christopher T.|
|Barnett, Captain R. W.||Hamilton, C. G. C. (Ches., Altrincham)||Neville, Reginald J. N.|
|Barran, Sir John N. (Hawick Burghs)||Hamilton, Lord C. J. (Kensington, S.)||Newman, John R. P.|
|Barrie, H. T.||Hardy, Rt. Hon. Laurence||Nicholson, Sir Charles N. (Doncaster)|
|Barton, William||Harmsworth, R. L. (Caithness-shire)||Nicholson, William G. (Petersfield)|
|Bathurst, Capt. Charles (Wilts., Wilton)||Harris, Henry Percy (Paddington, S.)||Norman, Sir Henry|
|Beauchamp, Sir Edward||Harris, Percy A. (Leicester, S.)||Nuttail, Harry|
|Beck, Arthur Cecil||Harvey, T. E. (Leeds, West)||Orde-Powlett, Hon. W. G. A.|
|Beckett, Hon. Gervase||Haslam, Lewis||Parker, James (Halifax)|
|Bellairs, Commander C. W.||Healy, Timothy Michael (Cork, N.E.)||Parkes, Ebenezer|
|Bentinck, Lord H. Cavendish-||Helme, Sir Norval Watson||Pearce, Sir Robert (Staffs, Leek)|
|Benn, Arthur Shirley (Plymouth)||Hemmerde, Edward George||Pearce, Sir William (Limehouse)|
|Bentham, George Jackson||Henderson, John M. (Aberdeen, W.)||Pease, Herbert Pike (Darlington)|
|Bethell, Sir John Henry||Henry, Denis S.||Pennefather, De Fonblanque|
|Bird, Alfred||Hewart, Sir Gordon||Perkins, Walter F.|
|Black, Sir Arthur W.||Hewins, William Albert Samuel||Peto, Basil Edward|
|Blair, Reginald||Hibbert, Sir Henry F.||Philipps, Sir Owen (Chester)|
|Bliss, Joseph||Higham, John Sharp||Pratt, J. W.|
|Boscawen, Sir Arthur S. T. Griffith-||Hinds, John||Priestley, Sir W. E. B. (Bradford, E.)|
|Bowden, Major G. R. Harland||Hodge, Rt. Hon. John||Pryce-Jones, Colonel E.|
|Bowerman, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Hohler, G. F.||Radford, Sir George Heynes|
|Beyton, James||Holmes, Daniel Turnel||Raffan, Peter Wilson|
|Brace, Rt. Hon. William||Hope, Harry (Bute)||Randles, Sir John S.|
|Bridgeman, William Clive||Hope, John Deans (Haddington)||Rea, Walter Russell (Scarborough)|
|Brookes, Warwick||Hope, James Fitzalan (Sheffield)||Rees, Sir J. D. (Nottingham, E.)|
|Broughton, Urban Hanlon||Howard, John Geoffrey||Reid, Rt. Hon. Sir George H.|
|Brunner, John F. L.||Hughes, Spencer Leigh||Richards, Thomas|
|Bryce, J. Annan||Hume-Williams, William Ellis||Roberts, Charles H. (Lincoln)|
|Bull, Sir William James||Hunt, Major Rowland||Roberts, George H. (Norwich)|
|Burgoyne, Alan Hughes||Hunter, Sir Charles Roderick||Roberts, Sir J. H. (Denbighs)|
|Burn, Colonel C. R.||Ingleby, Holcombe||Robertson, Rt. Hon. J. M. (Tyneside)|
|Butcher, John George||Jacobsen, Thomas Owen||Robinson, Sidney|
|Carew, C. R. S.||Jardine, Ernest (Somerset, East)||Rowlands, James|
|Cautley, Harry Strother||Jardine, Sir J. (Roxburgh)||Rowntree, Arnold|
|Cawley, Rt. Hon. Sir Frederick||Johnson, William||Rutherford, Sir John (Lancs., Darwen)|
|chaloner, Colonel R. G. W.||Johnston, sir Christopher||Rutherford, Watson (L'pool, W. Derby)|
|Chambers, J.||Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)||Salter, Arthur Clavell|
|Chancellor, Henry George||Jones, J. Towyn (Carmarthen, East)||Samuels, Arthur W.|
|Churchill, Rt. Hon. Winston S.||Jones, Rt. Hen. Leif (Notts, Rushcliffe)||Samuel, Rt. Hon. Sir Harry (Norwood)|
|Clough, William||Jones, William S. Glyn- (Stepney)||Samuel, Rt. Hon. H. L. (Cleveland)|
|Clyde, James Avon||Joynson-Hicks, William||Scott, A. MacCallum (Glas., Bridgeton)|
|Clynes, John R.||Kellaway, Frederick George||Sharman-Crawford, Colonel R. G,|
|Cochrane, Cecil Algernon||Kenyon, Barnet||Smith, Sir Swire (Keighley, Yorks)|
|Collins, Sir W. (Derby)||King, Joseph||Spicer, Rt. Hon Sir Albert|
|Compton-Rickett, Rt. Hon. Sir J.||Lambert, Rt. Hon. G. (Devon, S. Molton)||Stanton, Charles Butt|
|Coote, William||Lambert, Richard (Wilts, Cricklade)||Starkey, John Ralph|
|Cornwall, Sir Edwin A,||Larmor, Sir J.||Steel-Maitland, A. D.|
|Cory, James Herbert (Cardiff)||Law, Rt. Hon. A. Bonar (Bootle)||Stewart, Gershom|
|Craig, Col. James (Down, E.)||Levy, Sir Maurice||Stirling, Lieut.-Col. Archibald|
|Craik, Sir Henry||Lewis, Rt. Hon. John Herbert||Sutton, John E.|
|Croft, Lieut.-Col. Henry Page||Lloyd, George Butler (Shrewsbury)||Sykes, Col. Alan John (Ches., Knutsf'd)|
|Currie, George W.||Locker-Lampson, G. (Salisbury)||Taylor, John W. (Durham)|
|Dalrymple, Hon. H. H||Lockwood, Rt. Hen. Lt.-Col. A. R.||Taylor, Theodore C. (Radcliffe)|
|Dalziel, Davison (Brixton)||Long, Rt. Hon. Walter||Thomas-Stanford Charles|
|Davies, Ellis William (Eifion)||Lonsdale, Sir John Brownlee||Thomson, W. Mitchell- (Down, North)|
|Davies, Sir W. Howell (Bristol, S.)||Lowe, Sir F. W. (Birm., Edgbaston)||Thompson, Rt. Hon. R. (Belfast, N.)|
|Denman, Hon. Ricnard Douglas||Loyd, Archie Kirkman||Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton)|
|Denniss, E. R. B.||MacCaw, William J. MacGeagh||Tickler, T. G.|
|Dickinson, Rt. Hon. Willoughby H.||Macdonald, Rt. Hon. J. M. (Falk. B'ghs)||Tootill, Robert|
|Dixon, C. H.||McKenna, Rt. Hon. Reginald||Toulmin, Sir George|
|Duncan, C. (Barrow-in-Furness)||Macleod, John Mackintosh||Walker, Colonel William Hall|
|Essex, Sir Richard Walter||Macmaster, Donald||Walters, Sir John Tudor|
|Fell, Arthur||McMicking, Major Gilbert||Walton, Sir Joseph|
|Finney, Samuel||Macnamara, Rt. Hon. Dr. T. J.||Warde, Col. C. E. (Kent, Mid)|
|Fisher. Rt. Hon. H. A. L. (Hallam)||McNeill, Roland (Kent, St. Augustine's)||Wason, Rt. Hon. E. (Clackmannan)|
|Fisher, Rt. Hon. W. Hayes||Maden, Sir John Henry||Watson, Hon. W.|
|Flannery, Sir J. Fortescue||Magnus, Sir Philip||Weston, J. W.|
|Fletcher, John Samuel||Mallaby-Deeley, Harry||Whiteley, Herbert James|
|France, Gerald Ashburner||Mallalieu, Frederick William||Whittaker, Rt. Hon. Sir Thomas P.|
|Galbraith, Samuel||Marriott, John Arthur Ransome||Wiles, Rt. Hon. Thomas|
|Gardner, Ernest||Martin, Joseph||Williams, Aneurin (Durham, N.W.)|
|Gibbs, Col. George Abraham||Middlebrook, Sir William||Williams, John (Glamorgan)|
|Williams, Llewelyn (Carmarthen).||Wilson-Fox, Henry||Yeo, Alfred William|
|Williams, Penry (Middlesbrough)||Wing, Thomas Edward||Young, William (Perth, East)|
|Williams, Col Sir Robert (Dorset, W.)||Wood, John (Stalybridge)||younger, Sir George|
|Williams, Thomas J. (Swansea)||Wood, Rt. Hon. T. McKinnen (Glasgow)|
|Williamson, Sir Archibald,||Worthington Evans, Major Sir L.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Wilson, W. T. (Westhoughton)||Wright, Henry Fitzherbert||Lord Edmund Talbot and Mr. Primrose.|
|Wilson, Lt.-Cl. Sir M.(Beth'l Green, S.W.)||Yate, Colonel C. E.|
|Banbury, Rt. Hon. Sir Frederick G.||Flavin, Michael Joseph||Mason, David M. (Coventry)|
|Boland, John Plus||Ginnell, Laurence||Meagher, Michael|
|Booth, Frederick Handel||Gwynn, Stephen Lucius (Galway)||Meehan, Francis E. (Leitrim, N.)|
|Brady, Patrick Joseph||Hackett, John||Meehan, Patrick J. (Queen's Co., Leix)|
|Clancy, John Joseph||Hayden, John Patrick||Molloy, Michael|
|Condon, Thomas Joseph||Henry, Sir Charles||Mooney, John J.|
|Cosgrave, James||Houston, Robert Paterson||Muldoon, John|
|Cowan, William Henry||Joyce, Michael||Nolan, Joseph|
|Cullinan, John||Keating, Matthew||O'Neill, Dr. Charles (Armagh, S.)|
|Dillon, John||Kelly, Edward||O'Shee, James John|
|Donelan, Captain A.||Kennedy, Vincent Paul||Reddy, Michael|
|Donovan, John Thomas||Kilbride, Denis||Sheehy, David|
|Duffy, William J.||Law, Hugh A. (Donegal, West)||Smyth, Thomas F. (Leitrim, S.)|
|Esmonds, Sir Thomas (Wexford, N.)||Lundon, Thomas||White, Patrick (Meath, North)|
|Farrell, James Patrick||Lynch, Arthur Alfred||Whitty, Patrick Joseph|
|Ffrench, Peter||McGhee, Richard|
|Field, William||MacNeill, J. G. Swift (Donegal, South)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Mr. Patrick O'Brien and Mr. Hazleton.|
|Fitzpatrick, John Lalor||MacVeagh, Jeremiah|
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
The hon. Member for East Mayo has handed in the following manuscript Amendment:
To insert after the word "months" ["five years and eight months"] the words,
"and if at the end of the said six years and ten months the Resolution of this House as to franchise; registration, and redistribution of seats has not been embodied in a law—until the Royal Assent has been given to a measure enacting the proposals approved of in that Resolution."
These words seem to me to be too vague to embody in an Act of Parliament, and I must rule the Amendment out of order
§ Mr. DILLON
With all due respect to your ruling, Mr. Maclean, I think my Amendment is very much to the point. One of the main reasons for the passing of this Act was that if an election took place on the 30th of this month it would be necessary, in the event of this Act not being passed, to have the election on a very inadequate register. The point is whether we are going to have an improved register. I addressed a question on that point the other day to the Government, and the answer I received was entirely unsatisfactory, and therefore I submit that we are entitled in some shape or other to put into this Bill some condition that in the event of our agreeing to meet the demand of the Government by extending the life of this Parliament for eight months we should have some assurance 1714 that the life of Parliament will be extended for such a period as will enable the reform I have suggested to be carried out. It is my intention, in case I am allowed to move this Amendment, to follow it up by a new Clause taken from the law under which the last Long Parliament made its existence independent of the Government, and decided that no Government should dissolve that Parliament without its own consent. As we have now gone back to this ancient procedure, I think we are entitled to discuss this measure in all its details, and as the Government now for the third time desire to prolong the life of this Parliament, we ought to be entitled to insert some conditions in this Bill.
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ Mr. S. MacNEILL
I think the difficulty which occurs to you is that the Amendment is not sufficiently definite to permit Parliamentary action to be taken on it. If my hon. Friend added to the words of the Resolution the date on which that Resolution passed the House of Commons, would that sufficiently incorporate a tangible object, until the achievement of which this Parliament should remain in existence? We have an exact analogy, though it is much more vague, in the Act whereby the Welsh Disestablishment Bill and the Home Rule Bill are suspended until after the War. The meaning of the words, "after the War," is very much less determinate than the meaning of a definite Resolution of the House of Commons incorporated in 1715 definite language. Would that meet your view? The second and supplementary Amendment which my hon. Friend intends to move is in the exact words of the Statute of Charles I, and the analogy is perfect. I would, therefore, respectfully ask you to reconsider your ruling in reference to the only objection to this Amendment, that it is not sufficiently succinct, and that it does not definitely touch a Parliamentary point.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
I am obliged to the hon. Members for the expression of their views on the point of Order, but I am unable to change the decision at which I have already arrived. There is, of course, a very sound principle in legislation, and it is that Bills passing through this Committee and through the House of Commons must express as clearly as possible the object which they desire to attain. The Amendment handed in by the hon. Member seeks to make it a condition that the Resolution of the House on Franchise and Registration Reform shall be embodied in law. If the hon. Member will look at the Resolution, which I have before me, he will see that it says that the House is of opinion that legislation should be promptly introduced on the lines of the Resolutions reported from the Conference. It is perfectly clear that it would be almost beyond the wit of man to arrive at a clear conclusion, in view of the diverse views held with regard to that Conference, as to whether its Resolutions had or had not been embodied in an Act of Parliament. Therefore, while I do not desire to take a pedantic view of the matter, I regret that it is my duty to rule this Amendment out of order.
§ Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.